Kenyan election court ruling looms

A court held its last session today on a challenge to Uhuru Kenyatta's presidential election victory.

Kenya's newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta waves to faithfuls after attending a mass on March 10, 2013 at the Martyrs of Uganda Catholic church during a thanksgiving service in Gatundu, Kiambu. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - Kenya's Supreme Court held its last session on Friday on a challenge to Uhuru Kenyatta's presidential election victory a day before giving a ruling that will test Kenyans' trust in the newly reformed judiciary.

The court delivers its verdict on Saturday on the challenge raised by defeated candidate Raila Odinga after peaceful voting on 4 March went some way to rebuilding Kenya's image following tribal blood-letting in the wake of the disputed 2007 vote.

But the final test will come when Kenyans learn whether Kenyatta's win is upheld or a new vote is ordered.

Kenyatta, who is facing charges in the Hague relating to the 2007 vote riots, was well ahead of Odinga in total votes but had only just enough to cross the 50 percent threshold to avoid a run-off.

The court met for a last brief session on Friday to allow legal teams to review results of recounts ordered in 22 of the 33,400 polling stations after Odinga said more votes were cast than registered voters.

"Keep your cellphones open, because we don't know when we are going to summon you tomorrow (to issue the ruling)," Chief Justice Willy Mutunga told lawyers at the end of the session where both sides said the recount supported their arguments.

When he opened the session, Mutunga spoke of a "mountain of stuff to do" to meet Saturday's deadline. "It is going to be very, very tough for us," he said.

Both candidates said they would respect the ruling and said they would keep any disputes off the streets.

How their supporters respond is not clear but Kenyans insist there will not be re-run of the violence five years ago, partly because of greater confidence in the judiciary - reformed after 2007 with changes in its top echelon - to adjudicate fairly, the kind of trust lacking five years ago.

"As the country awaits the Supreme Court ruling which is due this Easter weekend, I call upon all of us to accept the ruling and maintain peace," outgoing President Mwai Kibaki said in a message to mark the Christian holiday.

"Kenyans should resume their routine economic activities as soon as possible to return normalcy in the country," he said.

WESTERN CONCERNS

East Africa's biggest economy was hammered by the violence after the election in December 2007 was followed by weeks of ethnic killings that left more than 1,200 dead, scaring away investors and tourists, a valuable source of income. Growth has still not returned to the level it was before the 2007 vote.

Neighbours, some of whose economies were hurt when their trade routes through Kenya were shut down five years ago, have been watching warily. So too have Western donors who see Kenya as a vital ally in the regional battle against militant Islam.

As well as complaining that there were more votes cast than voters registered, Odinga's team argued that the failure of technology in tallying undermined the vote. Rival lawyers argued that any irregularities or technical hiccups had an insignificant impact and did not change the overall outcome.

If confirmed, a win by Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president, will create a headache for Western nations because he faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court related to the violence after the 2007 vote.

He denies the charges and has promised to clear his name.

Western states have a policy of having only "essential contacts" with indictees of the court.

Diplomats say that will not affect dealings with the government as a whole but have a delicate balancing act to avoid driving a long-time ally of the West closer to emerging powers such as China which has become increasingly active in Africa.

In a speech after his victory was declared on 9 March, following a five-day count, Kenyatta promised to cooperate with international bodies, reassuring words for the West which have urged him to keep working with the court. But he took a swipe by saying the world should respect the choice of Kenyans.

On Thursday, Kenyatta apologised for seeming to dismiss the Supreme Court judges as "some six people" who will "decide something or other".